London resident John Oates gives you an insider’s tour around the city that never sleeps, sharing some secrets that only the locals know.
0700-0900. London takes breakfast seriously. Head for Soho and the impressive Dean Street Townhouse (69-71 Dean Street, 020 7434 1775), a smart boutique hotel which serves porridge followed by a full English (eggs, sausages, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and black pudding). The outdoor tables are great for people-watching. Alternatively, try the New Zealand-style café Kopapa (32-34 Monmouth Street, 020 7240 6076) in nearby Seven Dials. There’s plenty of lighter fare such as granola on offer, as well as the popular ‘Turkish eggs’ (poached eggs with whipped yoghurt, hot chilli butter and flat bread).
0900-1100. Finance workers will have been at their desks for hours so it’s a quiet time to explore the City and its warren of medieval streets. Start at Bunhill Fields, reputed to be the largest unconsecrated cemetery in Europe. It’s the last resting place for John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, William Blake and George Fox. Then take a walk from nearby Finsbury Circus to St Dunstan in the East, a medieval church whose interior was destroyed by the Blitz and is now a public garden. Other City highlights include the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from the rooftop of the swanky One New Change shopping centre on Cheapside (it’s free) and the Museum of London (150 London Wall, 020 7001 9844), an engaging place to get to grips with the city’s history.
1100-1300. A stroll along the north bank of the Thames from The Monument – Sir Christopher Wren's 61-metre-tall memorial to the Great Fire of 1666 – to the gleaming towers of Canary Wharf is a cracking way to see the spectacular transformation of London’s docklands. It should take about an hour and a half so you have time for coffee or a beer in one of the many pubs along the way, from The Hung, Drawn and Quartered (26-27 Great Tower Street, 020 7626 6123) at Tower Hill to Gordon Ramsay’s The Narrow (44 Narrow Street, 020 7592 7950), originally a customs house, in Limehouse. On the way, pop into The Wapping Project (Wapping Wall, 020 7680 2080) – a former hydraulic power station, now a gallery and restaurant – to see what art is on display within its industrial space.
1300-1500. Canary Wharf’s restaurants are buzzing Monday to Friday – although they are much, much quieter at weekends. Wahaca (The Park Pavilion, Canada Square, 020 7516 9145) serves great, albeit relatively pricey, Mexican street food. The fish tacos and pork pibil (marinated pork served in a parcel) are particularly good, washed down with hibiscus water or a mojito. Or there’s Iberica (12 Cabot Square, 020 7636 8650), which brings a taste of Spain to E14 with gorgeous tapas and exquisite jamón ibérico. If a sandwich will do, head for Birley Salt Beef (1 Canada Square, 020 7719 0061) and then you’ll certainly have time for a wander around the brilliant Museum of London Docklands (1 Warehouse, West India Quay, 020 7001 9844), whose galleries tell the story of how London grew up around the river.
1500-1700. From here, take the 10-minute journey on the Docklands Light Railway to Greenwich’s Cutty Sark station. The Cutty Sark (King William Walk, 020 8312 6608), Britain’s iconic tea clipper, reopened in spring 2012 with interactive displays plus a stunning space directly beneath the ship. The National Maritime Museum (Park Row, 020 8858 4422) has also been vastly improved, with the sleek Sammy Ofer wing and plenty of spiffy new installations. Zip up the hill to the Royal Observatory (Blackheath Avenue, 020 8858 4422) to stroke a 4-billion-year-old meteorite and take a snap of the Meridian line. Alternatively, wander through Greenwich market for arts, crafts, antiques and collectables (closed Monday). Then head back down to the waterfront to catch a City Cruises or Thames Clipper boat from Greenwich pier to Tower Bridge.
1700-1900. It’s a 10-minute walk from Tower Bridge to the Whitechapel Art Gallery (77-82 Whitechapel High Street, 020 7522 7888), founded in 1901 and still pivotal to the continued growth of east London as one of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art districts. It’s also now home to the Dining Room, a smart restaurant with a menu devised by Gordon Ramsay protégée Angela Hartnett. You should have time for a whizz round the galleries (closed Monday) before heading to Shoreditch for a drink. This area remains fashionable and vibrant, with bars and restaurants opening all the time; one new arrival to check out is the capital’s second BrewDog bar (51-55 Bethnal Green Road, 020 7729 8476), which serves a range of craft beers from around the world in addition to BrewDog’s own acclaimed brews.
1900-2100. There are plenty of places to eat in Shoreditch, but for something really special, wander into Bethnal Green where Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes is at the helm of the Michelin-starred Viajante (Patriot Square, 020 7871 0461) in the grand Town Hall Hotel. Featuring installations from fashion and lighting designers as well as some of the East End’s best young artists, it offers six-, nine- and 12-course tasting menus in the evening. Alternatively, head north to Dalston for cheap and cheerful Vietnamese on Kingsland Road – if you can’t choose, try relative newcomer Anh Dao (106-108 Kingsland Road, 020 7739 3841).
After 2100. Dalston is also a great place to end your evening, assuming that you enjoy your entertainment a little offbeat. Friendly Cafe OTO (18-22 Ashwin Street) has one of London’s most adventurous programmes of live music, and the consistently excellent Arcola Theatre (24 Ashwin Street, 020 7503 1646) is just next door. The same street also holds the Dalston Roof Park (18 Ashwin Street, 020 7275 0825), which is great for a summertime drink and also hosts events such as film screenings. Jazz fans should head over to The Vortex Jazz Club (11 Gillett Street, 020 7254 4097), a small venue which books top-rate acts. Confusingly enough, the nearby Dalston Jazz Bar (4 Bradbury Street, 020 7254 9728) rarely plays any jazz, but often gets packed to the rafters with good-humoured revellers until the wee small hours.
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Written by World Travel Guide.